The comments left on posts related to our church’s recent decision to switch affiliation from the Baptist General Convention of Texas to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, as well as a few emails to me personally, have prompted me to make this particular post.  Denominational loyalty runs deep among Southern Baptists, down to the associational level.  Most church members couldn’t explain the cooperative relationship between churches and denominational entities and conventions, but many of them would speak up at the thought of making a change. 

The “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC, in spite of the depth and intensity of the various controversies surrounding it, has produced very little movement among Southern Baptist churches across the denominational spectrum, in spite of what appeared to be close to a 50-50 split among messengers attending the stormy convention meetings during its first 10 years, from 1979 into the late 1980’s.  However, when the “moderates” began considering some kind of separation, or at least, development of denominational structures they could control, which would express their particular theological perspective, few churches followed along.  Formation of both the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as alternative, moderate-controlled groups attracted few churches.  The Alliance numbers about 100 affiliates, represents those churches furthest to the left of center in Baptist life, but includes some ABC-USA congregations as well.  It  consists of churches which, with few exceptions, have completely severed ties with the SBC.  Among the 1,700 or so churches which provide financial assistance through CBF, “partner churches” as they are called, only about 100 have completely severed ties with the SBC, the rest providing a level of support to the Cooperative Program, in most cases, to a greater extent than they do to CBF. 

On the other hand, in the two state conventions whose leadership resisted conservative control of the SBC and attempted to assert their independence, a significant number of churches have switched over to newly formed, conservative state convention bodies.  In Virginia, over 500 churches left the moderate controlled BGAV to form the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV), about a third of the total, and churches continue to switch their affiliation on a regular basis.  In Texas, over 2,000 Baptist churches once affiliated with the BGCT have switched, again, over a third of the total.  Each one is a story in and of itself.  This is ours.

The church’s relationship with the various levels of denominational cooperation has ebbed and flowed throughout its history depending on the direction its leadership has gone.  During the first forty years of its history, as the church grew numerically because of the growth of the surrounding neighborhood, most of those who came here were familiar with the Southern Baptist identity, and supported the church’s relationship with all levels related to that.  As the first generation of families began to age, the kids moved away, and the congregation declined and aged, that identity became even stronger.  The first pastor to serve during a period of numerical decline that began thirty years ago was an SBC loyalist who eventually retired from a position as an editor in the literature publishing division of Lifeway.  The second pastor to serve during that period did not have strong denominational leanings, and attempted to build a more independent approach to ministry.  Many of those who joined the church, either by baptism or through transfer, during the past seventeen years have come from non-Baptist backgrounds, and there has not been a strong effort to educate them in denominational loyalty. 

The issue of state convention affiliation didn’t really touch this church until it became pastorless in June of 2008.  As various candidates were interviewed by the search team, a growing realization developed that the church would have to make some kind of a decision regarding the direction it would go or it might find the process of calling a pastor to be somewhat more difficult than anticipated.  The result was the appointment of a committee to study the issue from all sides of it, including the background of the 1979 Conservative Resurgence, and make a decision based on a consensus of the members of the church. 

The issue that came to the surface at the very beginning, and remained there through the entire process was the relationship of the state convention to the Southern Baptist Convention.  Our church has close, personal connections to individuals who are directly involved with the International Mission Board, including a family serving with them in East Asia, and a family training to be appointed to South America.  In addition to that, there are relationships to individuals who work directly with the North American Mission Board.  Several years ago, when the BGCT began cutting the percentage of Cooperative Program funding it forwarded to SBC causes, this church opted to designate 66% of its CP giving to the SBC, and last year, we increased that to 75%.  The fact that the SBTC sees itself as a supporter of, and full partner with the SBC carried a lot of weight with our congregation.  The position taken by the BGCT was seen not only as a means of expressing disapproval of the SBC’s choice of leadership, but the partnership that was developed with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and the development of “stand alone” ministry and missions programs within the BGCT itself were both seen as being in competition with the SBC for the missions support of Texas Baptists. 

The doctrinal and theological differences between the church and the BGCT were noted, and the church does very clearly lean heavily in the direction of the BFM 2000.  Reading some of the language from articles in the Baptist Standard, some of the committee members came away with the perception that the BGCT’s leadership is actually hostile to the BFM 2000, from both a denominational-political and doctrinal perspective.  This church, and the committee that was selected to make this particular decision, would hold to the principle that scripture is not evaluated or interpreted based on one’s experience, but that experience is to be evaluated and interpreted by scripture.  Ultimately, with that perspective, comparing the way the BGCT sees the 1963 BFM and the SBTC sees the 2000 BFM, the church opted for cooperation with the latter, disagreeing with some of the “doctrinal loopholes” that have been used to justify positions out of step with Baptist theology via the 1963 BFM.  The committee examined some of those historic disagreements and their interpretation.  The decision to uniquely align with the SBTC was a unanimous one as a result.

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

14 responses

  1. doug says:

    Well, it seems there is plenty of rationale to decide on the heart of the church. As I am not there a quick question, What was the heart of God?

  2. Ken Coffee says:

    “Our church has close, personal connections to individuals who are directly involved with the International Mission Board….” I hope you do not think that makes your church unique. The same can be saoid for almost all the 5500 churches that are in the BGCT. BTW, isn’t it odd that before the new convention the BGCT had 6,000 churches….. and you say 2,000 left the BGCT, but the BGCT stil has 5500?

  3. Lee says:

    It might have been more accurate to say 2,000 churches have affiliated with the SBTC, which would include about 500 churches that are dually affiliated. Depending on whose numbers you look at, the number of churches that actually left the BGCT is about 1,500. The 5,500 that the BGCT now claims includes churches started since the SBTC departure, though since Valleygate, that’s not a figure you can count on, so to speak. The BGCT annual reports CP gifts received from about 4,900 churches. From what I can tell, there were almost 6,500 churches in the BGCT prior to the formation of the SBTC. Their total of over 2,000 also likely includes their new church starts. But the point remains, ten times as many churches completely left one moderate controlled state convention as moderate churches which left the entire SBC nationwide.

  4. K Gray says:

    The third developmental task in the intentional interim ministry is “Connections” in which, among other things, the church may examine its “partnerships in ministry and missions.” Sounds like that’s what the church did here, on its own.

    If it’s true that the average pastorate is lasting 5 years (not sure where I heard that), then churches which choose to self-examine during pastorless periods may be evaluating their affiliations more frequently and intentionally than in the past.

  5. Jeff Stehle says:

    One of you says “I follow BGCT”; another “I follow SBTC,”; another “I give more to Cooperative Program”; another “I only believe BFM 2000”; another “I only believe BFM 1963”; another “We are the true Baptists” and blah, and blah, and blah.
    Is Christ divided? Was the SBC crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of the SBC or CBF?
    1 Corinthians 1:12-13 (21st century version)

  6. doug says:

    Thank you Jeff. I enjoy the light being shone on the real stuff. We can always seem to find our differences, I hope one day we find our one similarity in Christ and not some 3 letter tag. If we are going to be reduced to that I choose QVC at least the lost world easily knows what that stands for.

  7. Lee says:

    Convention “loyalty” or agreement with a Baptist confession of faith is a far cry from “following” something other than Christ. This is an issue that has to do with a choice we’ve made regarding cooperation in missions and ministry, not who our allegiance is pledged to.

    • Jeff Stehle says:

      I wish that were true Lee. I’ve been trying hard to make that true. But from my perspective, it’s not. In about 20-30 years, this will be an irrelevant discussion (it’s almost irrelevant now) because none of these conventions (BGCT, SBTC, SBC, CBF) will be here. I hope I’m wrong. I hope something starts to change now.

  8. Sam Swart says:

    Some of you need to put your holy ‘high horses’ back in the corral. These things do matter. Long ago, independent and stubbornly individualistic Baptist churches realized they could do more effective missions if they pooled their money and efforts. As stewards of these resources we need to take seriously who we turn these gifts over to. And until Jesus sets up an account into which we can direct deposit cash, we’ve got to agree on trusted fellow Christians to use the money wisely. As for me, I trust the BGCT. The other guys? I trust them about as far as I can throw them.

    • Jeff Stehle says:

      And that is great. I think churches should pool their resources for missions. In the past few months, it has really been weighing on my conscience as a pastor that the Cooperative Program has sucked the vitality out of our churches, mine included. Our only missions involvement is that we write the check and send it on. We have no other involvement and no other joy of training, commissioning, sending, and supporting people to do a mission. What is going to happen to the Cooperative Program when the churches that give to it can no longer give b/c they’ve folded? I realize there are many reasons why a church folds and I am starting to think the root of a deteriorating church is lack of involvement in missions (locally, nationally, and beyond). We write the check and then have all kinds of time to bicker and bite about everything else.
      My hope is that national and state conventions will start more focus on revitalizing declining churches and helping them towards a more missional focus. I think that’s key to continuing on as churches and as conventions.
      No more arguing and bragging about who gives more to the Cooperative Program and making that a litmus test for how “Baptist” we are.
      I see more effort out of the BGCT to revitalizing existing churches and starting new one’s. I applaud their efforts. Also, I applaud the directive from their Executive Director to all convention employees not to speak bad about SBTC. This is one of the reasons our church switched back to BGCT last year. The SBTC representative that spoke to our church spent about 90% of the time bashing BGCT and the other 10% bragging about how much they gave to the Cooperative Program.
      I like the strides of the BGCT but I think more can be done. That’s why I’m going to the annual meeting next week for the first time. I hope they can start a trend that turns the tide of this downward spiral that all Baptist conventions are in and the church in America as far as that is concerned.

      • Jeff Stehle says:

        Or an addendum to this. Maybe all the conventions will die and we start over getting back to the Association, State Convention, and National Convention the way it was originally intended.
        I don’t know. I’m sorry I’m writing so much on here but I needed an outlet to vent about things that have been weighing on me for awhile. This topic pushed my buttons.

  9. Colby Evans says:

    The BGCT’s leadership let something like $2.5 million slip into someone’s pocket for something other than what it was intended for, simply because the guy who got it “knew” the right people on the staff who could pull strings to get it for him, and bypass the accountability to the convention. And as I understand it, efforts are still underway to keep what really happened from ever seeing the light of day.

    Trust that?